Last week, HUD issued new guidance confirming that persons with limited English proficiency (LEP) are protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). LEP includes a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English.  The guidance reasons that LEP persons are covered by the FHA because of their close nexus with the protected class of national origin.

The new guidance confirms that discrimination against LEP persons may include intentional discrimination or disparate impact, the latter of which involves facially neutral policies that have a discriminatory effect.  Examples of prohibited or potentially discriminatory practices include:

  • Refusing to rent to or to renew a lease for a person who speaks a certain language, but renting to those who speak another language
  • Refusing to allow translation of housing-related documents, such as leases or mortgages
  • Lending on unfair terms to certain LEP groups who share national origin
  • Restricting a renter’s or borrower’s use of an interpreter
  • Requiring an English speaker to co-sign a mortgage

This prohibition on LEP discrimination in the housing context is an expansion of HUD’s regulations to assist LEP persons in programs receiving federal financial assistance. Under those regulations, recipients of federal financial assistance have an obligation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to assist LEP persons to access to federally funded programs, such as public housing, housing choice vouchers, and other subsidized housing. The new HUD guidance, in contrast, interprets LEP discrimination under the FHA, which applies much more broadly to most rental and home sales whether or not federal assistance is involved, as well as lending activity.  Further discussion of the new guidance is available on Ballard Spahr’s website.